Wonderlands of the Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in Russia of the 1920s (Studies in Russian Literature and Theory (Hardcover))
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In postrevolutionary Russia, as the Soviet government was initiating a program of rapid industrialization, avant-garde artists declared their intent to serve the nascent state and to transform life in accordance with their aesthetic designs. In spite of their professed utilitarianism, however, most avant-gardists created works that can hardly be regarded as practical instruments of societal transformation. Exploring this paradox, Vaingurt claims that the artists’ investment of technology with aesthetics prevented their creations from being fully conscripted into the arsenal of political hegemony. The purposes of avant-garde technologies, she contends, are contemplative rather than constructive. Looking at Meyerhold’s theater, Tatlin’s and Khlebnikov’s architectural designs, Mayakovsky’s writings, and other works from the period, Vaingurt offers an innovative reading of an exceptionally complex moment in the formation of Soviet culture.
measured to the thousandth of a calorie, and the regulation of the work of the human organism must be modeled on the system of carburetors feeding thermal organisms. There mustn’t be anything sacred here.83 PROD UC T I O N A ND CO NT R O L O F L A NGUA GE Gastev’s insistence on regulating consumption and minimizing bodily inefficiency extends to language as well; just like food, language stands as a power source whose intake and outflow must be strictly regulated. Gastev never seems to tire of
rhetoric of efficiency, functionality, and control, thrives precisely on its opposite: dysfunctionality, rupture, and excess. But first let us sketch an overview of the most salient elements of biomechanics as practiced by Meyerhold. TH E L A NG UA G E O F M O V EM ENT S Just as Gastev’s interest in the body predated his adoption of biomechanics, Meyerhold began thinking of ways to subject the body to artistic control 55 Homo Faber, Homo Ludens years before instantiating his new theatrical
seeming indescribability. Otherwise eloquent and astute, neither Ivan nor Kavalerov seem capable of articulating what the machine looks like. At one point, its outlines, elastic and fluid, seem to suggest a bird; in another instance, it features an enormous metallic needle. Its formlessness might be indicative of its essence. Ivan’s ambitious plan to input so much in his machine renders it unimaginable. Its universality is beyond language. The name that Ivan bestows upon his machine constitutes
ence and cruelty toward people such as Ivan and Kavalerov. The overt exhibition of aggression toward these representatives of the new epochal other masks the violence Volodia imposes on himself, and his own weakness. It is, after all, his own body that he wishes to temper, to change, to restrain. The letter reveals that the new man shares with Kavalerov a common flaw. Feelings of envy are not foreign to him; machines make him recognize his own inferiority. But this weakness would be impossible to
in practical terms. But artists desired American technology for itself—for its aesthetic potential, its marvelous quality, its enrichment of life. 181 Chapter Seven Red Pinkertons: Adventures in Artificial Reality The poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities. —Aristotle, Poetics E C CENT R I C T ECH NO L O G I Z ATI ON In their 1922 manifesto, the group of young film directors self-described as Eccentrics explained their emergence thus: “Yesterday—the culture